Editorial: Putting Items On the High Fidelity Marketplace—Why Is It So Complicated?

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Why is it so complicated to get an item into the High Fidelity Marketplace? (Image by geralt on Pixabay)

Compared to the thousands of items already for sale on the Sansar Store (14,875 at last count), the High Fidelity Marketplace still looks rather empty in comparison (by my count, less than 600 items). High Fidelity is trying its hardest to encourage content creators to upload more items to its Marketplace. In fact, HiFi is issuing an HFC (in-world currency) bonus for any items uploaded to the Marketplace before Oct. 1st, 2018:

For every item you submit to the Marketplace before October 1, 2018, that is approved for sale, you will receive a bonus of 2,000 High Fidelity Coin (HFC).

In an effort to get some discussion rolling, Philip Rosedale recently posted his musings on the subject to the HiFi discussion forums:

With HFC now being exchangeable for USD at the bank, we’re thinking about how best to help get the marketplace started and lots of people putting up new things for sale. How best should we go about doing that? Any ideas?

Pay HFC for commissioned items, like we’d often been doing on the worklist?

Buy one copy of everything everyone puts up?

Get HF employees to put up some amazing stuff that can then be freely modified?

??

I must confess, that I really don’t see the point of having High Fidelity buy one copy of everything that everybody puts up for sale on the Marketplace. What purpose does that serve? High Fidelity should be encouraging its users to buy items from each other, rather than buying up items themselves!!

It would appear that there are still some impediments and bottlenecks in the whole process of putting an item up for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace. Some users have complained that the whole procedure is quite awkward.

Even worse, it would appear that every single item has to be reviewed by High Fidelity before it can be approved for sale. One would-be seller received the following response to his uploaded item:

“Unfortunately we do not feel this submission is up to quality standards on the Marketplace and have decided not to approve it at this time. We encourage you to continue improving on this submission and greatly appreciate the work you have put in.”

If High Fidelity is actually going to screen each and every item for quality, they’re going to create a huge bottleneck that will negatively impact the Marketplace. This is one of the fatal mistakes that Blue Mars made. Tell me this: how many staff is High Fidelity going to throw at this quality assurance task? What are the standards to be used for assessing the “quality” of items? Will there be an appeal process for rejected items? This opens up a huge can of worms.

Another person in that same discussion thread stated:

I’ll just bring up my concerns I’ve had for awhile in addition to people from Second Life who I’ve worked with, who have held back due to the security concerns.

I get the knowledge of some people will always be high and as a result will mean their knowledge on how to work around securities will be a never ending battle, but now that the push for wearables has been made, no one bothered to think of the consequences, and as a result, I’ve had a few of my own items copied without full concern. Were they certified, marketplace items? No, but the fact that the same even applies to them degrades my trust and the contacts I’ve met on the topic of putting things into the marketplace.

Now there’s this:

How can anyone put something up when most issues regarding the marketplace, regarding the security for it, and the issues with even the PoP have not been addressed?

Heck, I’ll go even as far as to address the other elephant in the room: as Richardus has pointed out, the approval process is slow, and now suddenly there’s a desire to push people to fix or upload new items, and at that, with a price tag. A consequence I hope someone has predicted are ones who did submit something for approval early only to not have it approved until after the date. If that happens, and word spreads, the trust in the system will only worsen.

These are all excellent points that need to be addressed by High Fidelity, and quickly.

As mentioned above, Proof of Provenance (PoP) is yet another area of concern with the Marketplace. There was a great deal of controversy when this was first proposed, but the document referring to it has since been taken down from HiFi’s website. It’s really not clear to me what the status of this initiative is. Is High Fidelity is still planning to conduct PoP verification services for items listed on its Marketplace? If they are, then what fee will they charge for this service? Everybody seems to have questions, and nobody seems to have any answers.

The online instructions for uploading your content to the High Fidelity Marketplace are split up into several sections, each of which is fairly technical in nature. Take a look for yourself:

Here’s a sample screenshot of a section from the Add Your Item page, complete with instructions on how to edit your .JSON files (yes, you need to know how to edit code!):

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I can certainly understand why some people feel that the whole process is daunting, confusing, and cumbersome.

The overall impression I get here is that there are still significant obstacles standing in the way of content creators who want to place their items up for sale in the High Fidelity Marketplace and earn money from them. Why on earth aren’t Philip Rosedale and his team taking a page from Linden Lab, where they have already set up not one, but two highly successful online stores: the Second Life Marketplace, and the Sansar Store?

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Five Thoughts as Google Turns 20

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The original Google logo from 1998

Google was incorporated on Sept. 4th, 1998 in the garage of Susan Wojcicki (who is now the CEO of Google subsidiary YouTube), with an initial US$100,000 investment by Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim.

It’s hard to believe that this happened only twenty years ago. In those 20 years, Google (now known as Alphabet) has transformed society. The way we look for information. The way we ask for directions. The way we consume the news.

What lessons can we learn from the astonishing growth of Google?

First, those things which might seem unimportant at the time can have great impact. Larry Page’s PageRank algorithm, which relied on the links between web pages to determine the ranking of search results, was a simple idea that became very, very powerful. In fact, it spawned the whole industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is basically figuring out ways to improve your Google search ranking!

Second, never underestimate the power of networks. As the World Wide Web grew (and I remember a time when it was still called that!), the Google search engine only became more accurate and useful over time. The power of networks acts as an amplifier (you need no further proof of that than Donald Trump’s Twitter account).

Third, that being an early entry into a marketplace positions you for growth (call it “the Microsoft effect”). It’s not always true, but often enough, being first is better than being best when it comes to the Internet. As some entrepreneurs like to say: “ready, fire, aim”—it’s better to launch something early, then make constant adjustments to your course as you go along and learn from your mistakes. The fatal mistake is to wait until everything is perfect before taking action. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t wait.

Fourth, that a lot can happen in a short period of time. We tend to underestimate just how quickly things can change in today’s society. The pace of technology is accelerating. Think ahead to 20 years from today—Sept. 8th, 2038. It might seem far away. But every day, it comes a step closer. Who will you be in that world, on that day? If I am still alive, I will be 74 years old and retired, perhaps feeling insecure and afraid in my old age as civilization charges ahead without me. What will I have seen in those twenty years? What will I regret doing? What will I regret not doing? What should I have been paying attention to, while I was busy doing something else? What will I have learned?

Finally, remember that the actions of individual people do make a difference in this world. Sergey Brin and Larry Page had an idea, and that idea changed the world. Philip Rosedale had a dream, and his dream became a daily reality for millions of people on dozens of metaverse platforms. Never doubt for one second that you are not capable of that same miraculous feat, in countless different ways, every single day.

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The Google logo today

UPDATED! Editorial: Linden Lab’s Updated Content Guidelines for Sansar Go a Little Too Far

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Linden Lab has updated their Content Guidelines for Sanar. This was obviously a document that was lovingly laboured over by their legal team, and it’s quite long:  1,642 words in total!

Content guidelines are a necessary evil. There are always going to be people who try to bend the rules, so spelling everything out in detail is the way to go. Linden Lab has 15 years of Second Life experience (and many misadventures!) to guide them in drafting rules for Sansar.

I think most of the rules make sense. But I do think that Linden Lab has gone a little too far in a few of these new stipulations, and I do take issue with a couple of clauses in this long list.

First, and most important, under Impersonation:

Any Content or Sansar store listings that contain any references to Linden Lab, Sansar, Second Life, or any other Linden Lab-related terminology that may imply a relationship with, sponsorship, endorsement, or employment by Linden Lab is prohibited.

So this means that you are no longer allowed to put the word “Sansar” on a T-shirt. It means, for example, that Alfy now has to pull all of the clothing he created for the Voices of Sansar contest, because they use the forbidden word “Sansar”:

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Banned in Sansar: Voices of Sansar hoodies

This is a perfect example of a rule that has been applied too far. What harm is it if somebody puts the phrase “I love Sansar” on a T-shirt for sale in the Sansar Store, as long as it is not using the logo itself? (I can certainly understand why Linden Lab would want to crack down on other people using their logo.)

But it’s not just enough to avoid using the word “Sansar”! You can’t even hint at the verboten word, by using “S*ans*r” or “Zanzar” or “That Platform Which Shall Not Be Named”:

Do not upload Content that promotes or could be construed as primarily intended to evade limitations on Prohibited Content.

Now, there’s a weaselly-worded sentence if I ever saw one! The lawyers must have worked overtime on that little clause. How perfectly ridiculous.

Also, I take note, under Nudity, Pornography, and Other Sexual Content:

While we understand that some nudity might be intended for educational, scientific or artistic purposes, we restrict this content as members of our global community come from different cultural backgrounds. However, in limited educational or scientific contexts, we may make exceptions to these policies in our sole discretion.

So, a strict ban on nudity. If an artist creates a tasteful statue of a nude woman, she can’t sell it on the Sansar Store. If someone wants to include nudes in an art gallery he’s building, it’s verboten. Linden Lab has just banned whole swaths of art from throughout art history. Congratulations, you’ve spared those of us with delicate sensitivities!

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Banned in Sansar: Amedeo Modigliani, Reclining Nude, 1917-18

And using “different cultural backgrounds” as a justification for banning nudity completely is a complete cop-out, plain and simple. What’s next? Are we now going to insist that female avatars wear a niqab, because of a need to not offend “different cultural backgrounds” where women must wear a face veil?

Linden Lab making exceptions to the nudity policy on a case-by-case basis is opening another can of worms (notice that “artistic” is not mentioned as a possible case for an exception here, only “educational” or “scientific”). Who’s going to make these decisions? A panel? One person? Will there be any sort of appeal process? Does Linden Lab really want to go down this road?

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in Linden Lab and this document. They could have chosen to give people a little leeway in the cases I raised above, and instead, they chose to clamp down tight.

What do you think of the new Content Guidelines? Sound off in the comment section!

UPDATE July 26th: Some commenters have said that Linden Lab will still allow you to use the word “Sansar” on clothing. I have it on authority directly from Sansar’s Community Manager, Eliot, that the word “Sansar” is NOT permitted on clothing such as a T-shirt or hoodie.

Also, I just realized today that the Smithsonian Institution’s new art gallery prominently displays a statue of a nude woman in its advertising:

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So, it’s okay if the Smithsonian does it, but it’s not okay otherwise? Hmmm…I think Linden Lab needs to go back and re-clarify its “clarified” Content Guidelines…

Editorial: Are People Using Alts to Avoid Paying for a Sansar Subscription?

There’s been quite a bit of discussion and debate over on the official Sansar Discord channels about whether or not people have been creating alts (alternative avatars) in order to avoid paying Linden Lab for a Sansar subscription.

You see, every avatar counts as one Sansar account. And every account is allowed to build up to three Sansar experiences for free. If you want more than that, then you’re supposed to pony up for a paid subscription (here’s a chart of the levels):

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Some people who do have paid subscriptions have rightfully pointed out that there’s nothing stopping someone from creating multiple alts and using them to make as many free experiences as they want, without ever paying for a subscription.

I come to Sansar from Second Life, where, as I have written about before, I have created (and deleted) dozens of alts for various purposes. So, for me, it was natural to want to create an alt (Vanity Fair) for the modeling of female fashion for this blog. It’s not because I wanted to create more experiences for free (Vanity is using zero), but because I wanted to keep a separate female inventory of clothes. What Sansar really needs to implement sooner rather than later is proper inventory folders. Having to scroll and scroll and scroll through my clothing folder in the Lookbook is getting ridiculous.

Another reason people create alt accounts is to work on projects together. For example, when Tyler Scarborough created the set for the Metaverse Newscast, he asked me to create an account that he could use to build the experience, which I did (this was back in August 2017, which I believe was even before Linden Lab had set up their subscription levels plan). Sharing an account was, and still is, a necessity for most collaborative work right now. Until Linden Lab gives us the proper tools, it’s the only option we have to work together on projects, and they know that.

As my academic research project at work, I am creating a user-navigable, three-dimensional version of the Mathematical Atlas website (a guide to the mathematics literature for undergraduate and graduate students originally created by Dr. David Rusin), using Sansar as a software platform. For this research project, I created a separate account, for two reasons:

  1. I wanted the name “Virtual Library” in the URL for the published experience, rather than “Ryan Schultz”.
  2. I wanted a professional account, totally separate from my personal account, so that, when/if it came time to subscribe, it would be easier to arrange for the billing through my employer and my research expense account.

At the moment, the only experience I have for my research account is an unpublished empty flat plane. I have no plans to publish an experience for my research project for at least a year, and probably longer (my research time and money are both limited).

So in total, I have four Sansar accounts and only two published Sansar experiences: Ryan’s Garden and the Metaverse Newscast studio. That’s not likely to change in the near future. If at any point I go over the 3 experience limit, then I will pay Linden Lab for a subscription. I think that’s only fair.

So, you see, there are some good reasons for people to create alts. But that still leaves a potential loophole for unscrupulous people to exploit, and a potential revenue problem for Linden Lab. How to fix it? Here are five suggestions:

  • Give us inventory folders and subfolders (which removes the necessity of using alts as “folders” to organize our increasingly messy inventories, like I do with Vanity Fair)
  • Give us tools to allow us to work collaboratively on projects, thus making it unnecessary to share accounts and make “project” accounts
  • Allow us more flexibility in the URL names for our published experiences. Give us the option to not have our usernames as part of the URL.
  • Find a way to get rid of the one-to-one avatar/account setup. Replace it with a more flexible system where you can create more than one avatar per account.
  • Set up an accounting system (maybe using the computer IP address or some other identifier?) to find and target the people who are abusing account creation in order to get around the subscription plans. If someone has multiple alt accounts, each with 3 free experiences set up, that should be pretty easy for Linden Lab to spot. You can’t hide anything on the internet!

UPDATED! Editorial: So, What Is It Going to Take to Get People to Visit Sansar—And Keep Them Coming Back?

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At this week’s Star Trek Mission Log Live event, something was nagging me in the back of my mind while I was mingling and chatting with the other people present, and watching the broadcast.

It was the thought that this event, as fun as it was, was probably not getting the attention—or the audience—that Linden Lab was hoping for. The number of people present was less than 30, if I remember correctly. (I must confess that I got bored, and I left the event early, before the podcast hosts showed up in Sansar’s recreation of the bridge from the original Star Trek.)

And the deal to set up game-watching experiences within Sansar for the Overwatch League appears to have fallen through. Wagner James Au of the blog New World Notes was the first to report the bad news:

Thanks to a sharp reader, I just noted a belated (and curious) update to the original VentureBeat post announcing the Overwatch team partnership:

Update: Sansar does not have a formal partnership with the teams or the Overwatch League. Sansar conducted preliminary discussions with the San Francisco Shock and Houston Outlaws to create VR watch spaces, but the previously announced activities are not moving forward at this time as there was a misunderstanding.

Hat tip: Wurfi. Apparently something fell apart after the press release was published…

In the same blogpost, Wagner notes that user concurrency figures for Sansar have only gone up very slightly from before, citing the statistics that Gindipple keeps:

At best we can probably say there’s been a very small growth in usage since these gamer outreaches. I’m personally surprised by this, because I expected growth of at least a few hundred. That may still happen if the gamer personalities do more to ramp their fans into Sansar, but so far, sadly, that’s not happening.

I’ve also had some misgivings about Linden Lab’s deal with UmiNoKaiju, which I doubt has had much impact so far on user concurrency figures, either. And the Ready Player One movie tie-in did little to nothing to attract new users, from what I can tell.

So, what is it going to take to get people to come visit Sansar? I honestly don’t know. I wish I knew. Frankly, I am starting to get worried. I’ve already been prodding Linden Lab to think outside the box in terms of promoting Sansar. But I don’t have any new ideas myself as to how they should go about doing what appears to be an increasingly difficult task: attracting new users to Sansar and keeping them coming back for more.

And I worry: what happens, if another year goes by and the user concurrency figures for Sansar have not budged? Will Linden Lab decide to pull the plug, and refocus on Second Life, which is the cash cow that is currently funding Sansar’s development? How long will Linden Lab continue to plough money into a project with (so far) limited success? Is there some future date in Ebbe Altberg’s mind when, if usage figures do not improve, he’s going to cease development on Sansar, some point where he decides that he’s simply throwing good money after bad? The thought terrifies me.

There’s a small, but highly active and engaged user community already in Sansar, which is a joy and a delight to me. But it doesn’t seem to me that we are attracting a lot of new people to Sansar events and experiences. Yes, there’s usually one or two new faces every Saturday at Atlas Hopping. But so far, there hasn’t been a flood of new users, despite efforts to create engaging new in-world games like the Combat Zone and HoverDerby.

We might—just maybe—have to steel ourselves to the possibility that Sansar will not be a success on the same level as Second Life. And that’s a highly unpleasant thought to me.

What do you think? Please sound off in the comments…let me know what you think.

UPDATE May 25th: I cross-posted this blogpost to various VR-themed groups on Facebook, and I got quite a few comments back. Summarized, they fall into three broad categories:

  • Make Sansar available via Steam or Oculus Home: “How about starting by putting it in a store people actually shop at, like Steam or Oculus for one. Many probably don’t know it exists or what it is.”
  • Make Sansar run faster/better: “It takes forever to download a world, and half the time it either crashes or just says it can’t join while loading. They need to fix those bugs.”
  • Allow adult content: “Adult content. That’s the only way it’ll have a shot. SL would’ve been 6 feet under years ago without the adult stuff.”

2nd UPDATE, May 25th 3:37 p.m.: Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, left this comment on the official Sansar Discord channel:

And, we are still in beta. We are trying things with various partners and learn and iterate. We are not yet piling on for growth. But each revolution things get better. But we also discover issues and iterate again.

UPDATED! Editorial: Why I Want to Leave My Second Life Avatars to Other People When I Die

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Meeting the Angel (screen capture from Second Life of me and an alt; picture taken in 2007)

Don’t misunderstand me…I plan on living a long and healthy life and dying a very old man. But when I do pass on, I want to leave some of my Second Life avatars to other people in my will.

Over the past eleven years, my passionate hobby has been creating and outfitting SL avatars. I have created many avatars over the years, and it has been a creative and deeply satisfying endeavour:

Some avatars lasted only a couple of days before I deleted them; others have been with me since the very beginning of my adventures in Second Life. Witches and wizards and wolves, pirates and painters, sergeants and satyrs, barbarians and ballerinas, harlequins and hippies, gladiators and geishas… my hobby has given me endless hours of pleasure and escape. Some were exclusively for role-play purposes; others were just a means to live inside somebody else’s skin for an hour while strolling the grid. Others were created specifically to evoke reactions from passers-by. I could be whatever I wanted, and I was: an angel, a fairy, a goth girl, Elvis, Queen Elizabeth the First, Lady Gaga, Santa Claus, a supermodel, a hobo, a spaceman, a Na’vi from the movie Avatar, a medieval minstrel.

Here is a photo mosaic of all the avatars I had created during my first five years in Second Life. (I created this photo mosaic back in 2012, as a sort of ceremonial way to wean myself off SL and move on. Of course, that didn’t really happen! I took a long break and came back in 2016.) Many, if not most, of these avatars I have since deleted, but I have kept the rest of them.

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I understand that it is currently against the Linden Lab Terms of Service (TOS) to give your SL avatar to another person. I believe that we need to make an exception. I would take great pleasure from knowing that some of my Second Life avatars, on which I lovingly spent so much time and money, would live on after I die. It would be a kind of digital immortality.

Of course, I understand that Linden Lab does not want avatar accounts to become a commodity, something that is bought and sold on the marketplace. I was surprised to find that there are even some places online where people actually sell their old avatar accounts, especially those legacy accounts created with a proper first name and last name; this might even be one of the reasons why LL is bringing back avatar last names.

I would never want to sell one of my avatars; I find the very idea repugnant. But it would give me great pleasure to be able to freely give one of my avatars as a gift or a legacy to a friend or family member. And I want Linden Lab to explicitly allow this.

Second Life is soon turning 15 years old. I’m certain that this sort of thing has happened in the past. And I’m quite certain that some of the people driving an avatar in SL are not the original creators. As more of SL’s original userbase starts to die off, this will be a perfectly natural thing for some avid SL users to want to do.

And no, I don’t think it’s creepy at all. The people to whom I would leave my avatars would be free to do as they please with them, redesign them, or give them on in turn.

This is my heartfelt plea to Linden Lab: please allow this (if you don’t already), and update your Terms of Service accordingly. Thank you!

UPDATE 5:48 p.m.: Well, what do you know? Ask, and ye shall receive! Somebody just told me that Linden Lab already has a posted policy on exactly this topic on their user wiki:

How do I bequeath my Second Life account and its assets in the event of my real life death?

In your will, you must include the legal (real life) name of the person who you want to inherit your Second Life account and assets in the event of your death.

Pursuant to Section 4.1 of our Terms of Service:

You may not sell, transfer or assign your Account or its contractual rights, licenses and obligations, to any third party (including, for the avoidance of doubt, permitting another individual to access your Account) without the prior written consent of Linden Lab.

I need to notify Linden Lab of the real life death of a Resident; what documentation does Linden Lab need?

The Second Life support team requires the death certificate and may require other additional testamentary letters or orders, as may be required by law. Additional verification of any party’s identity, including the deceased, may also be required.

In general, the team requires:

  • Copy of the death certificate
  • Copy of the will
  • Copy of a government-issued ID sufficient to identify you
  • Testamentary letter or other appropriate order (as appropriate)

If I die in real life, can you let my Second Life friends know?

Maybe. Linden Lab can only act on instructions that are part of a legally-recognized document such as a valid will. You would have to specify in your will that you want this action performed (for example, notifying everyone in your friends list), and we would need a copy of the will and any other verifying documents we deem necessary.

You can read the whole page over on the Second Life wiki for more questions and answers. This page was last updated on February 12th, 2016, so the policy is up-to-date.

Well, I guess I better start drawing up that list of names and contact information for my will… thank you for alerting me, Oobleck Allagash of the Second Life Friends group on Facebook!

UPDATED: Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues in Social VR Spaces/Virtual Worlds

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Image by AJEL from Pixabay

My recent interview with Ghoster got me thinking about the issue of intellectual property (IP) and copyright regarding avatars in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. VRChat is already infamous for having a multitude of avatars ripped from innumerable video games, TV shows, and movies. High Fidelity has decided to take a page from VRChat’s playbook (and, I assume, try and attract some of that VRChat crowd) by allowing people to set up a few domains where you can select from a wide variety of popular characters, owned by Disney and other companies, as your avatar:

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Now, the creator of this particular domain skates around the legality of this by offering these avatars for free; no money is being made from this. A prominent disclaimer sign posted in the Avatardz domain states:

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So, this user doesn’t advocate “piracy from independent and small artists.” What bothers me about this statement is the unstated implication that piracy from Disney or another large corporation is somehow O.K. (maybe because they can afford to swallow the losses more easily?). Also, they seem to justify this blatant IP appropriation as a sort of fan art, a “fan-operated source for pop culture avatars as a tribute to our pop culture legends”.

(Note: High Fidelity is a distributed open-source platform, allowing users to host named domains on their own servers or on the cloud. This means we should not automatically assume that the Avatardz domain is officially sanctioned or supported by High Fidelity.)

I came away from my interview with Ghoster of VRC Traders a little troubled by the copyright and IP issues involved in selling custom avatars to VRChat users that are wholly or partially based on characters owned by somebody else. I did a little research and came across this recent article on IP issues in virtual worlds, from the website Intellectual Property Watch (a non-profit independent news service), which states:

In the virtual world, people appear through their avatars. If they design the avatars themselves, they could be subject to copyright and trademark lawsuits, Lemley and Volokh said. Fictional characters’ images together with their unusual character traits are protected by copyright, so users who copy enough of the visuals, character traits or both to be copyrighted expression and not simply an idea might be infringing. If the use is non-commercial and the copyright owner isn’t distributing licensed avatars, the use might be fair use, but selling such avatars without rights owner approval would likely not be fair use, they said. It could also amount to a trademark infringement.

Rights holders might choose not to go after individual users or small avatar sellers, but to sue the AR or VR operator for contributory infringement, the paper said. The operator might be immune under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but only until someone sends it a notice-and-takedown request that isn’t quickly acted upon, it said. Established case law sets out the limits of intermediary liability under the DMCA; there’s less clarity about intermediary liability for trademark infringement on the internet but the law is developing, it said.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a process often used (and, in a few cases, abused) by vendors in Second Life and other virtual worlds who claim that someone has stolen their intellectual property. The process is laborious, tedious, and probably could be improved. Many large corporations don’t seem to think that it’s worth their time and money to go after people who are stealing their IP in social VR spaces/virtual worlds. For example, Warner Brothers probably doesn’t care much that dozens of people are selling Superman-themed items on the SL Marketplace, even though they fought (and won) a protracted legal battle to cement their copyright to Superman. They probably are reserving their lawyer firepower for the bigger and more egregious cases of copyright infringement.

I have said before that VRChat may get into serious trouble if people continue to flout the copyright laws so shamelessly, particularly if they are starting to making healthy profits at it, as seems to be the case with the community that has sprung up around VRC Traders. We could be in for some interesting legal cases in the years ahead.

UPDATE 3:34 p.m.: Obligatory link back to the VRChat Events website (because I promised them I would do it if I cross-posted over on their Discord server, and I forgot!): www.vrchatevents.com

Also, Second Life and Sansar blogger Inara Pey made such a great comment on this blogpost that I wanted to add it in full here. She said:

IP infringement and the “it’s OK to flout IP of big companies ‘cos they can afford it” is a source of heated debate in SL. In 2012, I reported on the CBS / Star Trek situation. There’s also been the Universal / Battlestar Galactica situation.

Both of these focused more on props, models, and costumes from said series than avatars, but the attitude towards their IP was the same. It was further coupled with the view that “well, we’re fans and so they should be grateful to us for our support”. However, both attitudes not only falsely justify infringement, they also overlook the importantly equal matter of licensing.

In short, major studios – Marvel, Disney, CBS, Universal, et al, generate millions in revenue by issuing merchandise licenses to manufacturers and commercial concerns. As such – and no matter how large or small the unlicensed market or how small the turn-over / profit made by those actively engaged in selling unlicensed goods – the license owner has a legal obligation to project the licenses they have sold, as well the right to protect their IP.

This was as much behind the Universal / CBS situations vis BSG and Trek as anything else – a point many of those railing at both companies at the time, and citing (in Trek’s case) non-binding “arrangements” which may have been offered by prior rights holders, seemingly failed to grasp.

The idea that offering something “for free” is equally a slippery path. As you point out, it’s only a short step from offering “for free” to then offering items for sale. This has been demonstrated (again) in SL with both the Star Trek and BSG situations.

In both cases, Universal and CBS backed away from legal action on the understanding that virtual goods relating to their IP investment in both shows would not be made with the intent to sell for profit. As a perusal of the SL Marketplace will demonstrate, neither agreement has been adhered to by virtual content creators. Ergo, there is still a potential ticking bomb on this subject in SL, should the legal departments of either studio swivel back towards virtual environments and virtual “goods” … which the slow rise of VR might actually encourage.

Also, there seems to be a broader view that because specific understandings were reached by some (again, I’ll use the CBS / Universal agreements, as those are the two I have direct knowledge of) are somehow a “blanket OK” from all IP holders to allow copies of their IP to be offered for free – which may not actually be the case. Again, that’s actually down to the individual studios to decide; just because X has gone that route, doesn’t mean Y will – or is obliged to even consider it.

Just as a point of reference, my own (slightly long-in-the-tooth) articles on this subject can be found at:

https://modemworld.me/2012/11/02/of-copyright-ip-and-product-licensing/ (Star Trek)

https://modemworld.me/2010/11/29/bsg-universal-dmca/ (Universal / BSG)

https://modemworld.me/2011/02/08/bsg-limited-roleplay/ Universal / BSG)

FreeWee Ling also had a great comment when I cross-posted this blogpost to Drax’s 114 Harvest community on Facebook:

People have been screaming about IP issues in SL since the beginning. Several years ago there was a series of open talks in SL featuring attorneys with expertise in IP who examined the LL TOS. Not much was resolved other than a statement from LL that their “intention” was not to steel user content, but that they needed certain rights in order to allow people to use the Marketplace and just to generally present the content on the platform. A lot of artists were not satisfied and you’ll find many of them still working in OpenSim grids where they have more control.

Disney and others are vehement about controlling how and where and by whom their IP is presented. There was a Disney themed fan sim in SL some years ago that, if memory serves, got notice to remove their content of face legal consequences. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation closed down a sim full of great Wright model homes in SL, even after the owners contacted them and at least got tacit permission to do it. (I.e., I think they had been told the foundation wouldn’t endorse it, but also wouldn’t stop it.)

Ultimately, I’m pretty sure any copy of virtual content without permission is theft. Whether there is money involved or not.